Brain science and the workplace: Neuroscience and neuroplasticity

If you’re interested in how the experience of work affects us, but you’re not into heavy science, get over the latter and become familiar with these two terms: Neuroscience and neuroplasticity. We’re going to be hearing a lot about both in the years to come.

Definitions

Neuroscience is defined by MedicineNet.com as:

The study of the brain and nervous system, including molecular neuroscience, cellular neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, psychophysics, computational modeling and diseases of the nervous system.

Neuroplasticity is defined as:

The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.

In other words, we’re talking about the science of the brain, including how we can change it for the better and fix it after bad stuff happens.

Past blog posts

I try to avoid using too much jargon in writing articles for this blog, so the following pieces are not filled to the brim with references to neuroscience and neuroplasticity. Nonetheless, these concepts are at the heart of these posts:

In recovering from adversity, past adversity can fuel our resilience

Do organizations suppress our empathy?

Understanding the bullied brain

Bully rats, tasers, and stress

Why concentrated power at work is bad

Huge implications for workplace bullying

As the titles of the posts listed above suggest, this has huge implications for understanding and responding to workplace bullying.

Neuroscience gives us tools for understanding what workplace bullying does to people. For example, last year Dr. Gary Namie wrote on the Workplace Bullying Institute blog about a promising experimental tool for diagnosing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (link here):

Prolonged exposure to unremitting stress damages a person’s health. . . . In worst cases, trauma can result. . . . Now comes a potential new neuroscience tool to complement the diagnostic toolkit — MEG. MEG stands for magnetoencephalography. PTSD can be detected with 97% accuracy using this non-invasive, but still experimental, procedure.  MEG measures the magnetic signals produced by the activity of the brain.

Similarly, emerging understanding of neuroplasticity — in this context, applying insights to help counsel and heal bullying targets — gives us hope for breakthroughs toward helping those with PTSD, a condition so difficult to treat that often has left even the most optimistic trauma experts in a state of frustration.

Legal significance

Words not only can hurt, but also when delivered in a malicious, sustained, and targeted way, they can impair brain functioning. In short, psychological torture causes brain damage. Thus, as these discoveries and developments become documented through published scientific research, neuroscience will help targets of bullying, harassment, mobbing, and abuse prove legal claims against their tormenters. It also will help them access workers’ compensation and disability benefits.

Organizational behavior and business practices

Insights from neuroscience increasingly will inform the study of organizational behavior and business management practices. In an article for Strategy + Business about neuroscience and organizational culture (link here, free registration), Jeffrey Schwartz, Pablo Gaito, and Doug Lennick wrote:

When corporate leaders talk about change, they usually have a desired result in mind . . .. They know that if they are to achieve this result, people throughout the company need to change their behavior and practices, and that can’t happen by simple decree. How, then, does it happen? In the last few years, insights from neuroscience have begun to answer that question. New behaviors can be put in place, but only by reframing attitudes that are so entrenched that they are almost literally embedded in the physical pathways of employees’ neurons.

A next big thing

So folks, this is a Next Big Thing. Stay tuned, because we’re going to be learning a lot of interesting stuff about ourselves, and this knowledge may lead us to ways of improving our lives at work and elsewhere.

3 responses

  1. David, you are so right. Neuroscience and the emerging understanding of neuroplasticity is revolutionising the way we are able to understand and deal with human behaviour. Another interesting and also important field of development in terms of what it means for disease and health is epigenetics. Very exciting times. Great to highlight these areas of scientific breakthrough as it helps us realise that our situations are not ‘set in stone’ but we are able to change and how we can do that.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing this up! There are tremendous strides being made right around us in understanding how brains works, how they process information, and how they are helped–or harmed–by what happens to the people in which they reside. There are huge, helpful implications for those of us interested in workplace bullying and trauma recovery in general.

  3. Carolyn and Lisa, thanks for the comments. It’s good to know that this topic resonates with other knowledgeable folks. Very exciting developments on the horizon… David

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